Exhibition: Wildlife photographer Aditya Singh captures forests of India, East Africa

Aditya Singh, or “Dicky,” as he’s known to friends, moved to Ranthambore twenty years ago with his wife and has been living with tigers in his backyard ever since. A known name in conservation and wildlife photography, his solo show in Delhi, curated by Laura Williams, is an attempt to simulate the dramatic experience of being inside a forest by exhibiting photographs inside a theatre. We asked him about his experiences.

Backlit playful langurs at dusk in Ranthambhore national park.
(Aditya “Dicky” Singh)

When did you start photographing wildlife professionally?
In 1999, I started working as a Field Assistant for a BBC Wildlife Division documentary on tigers that was filmed over 200 days. Among other things that I had to do for this documentary was to take still pictures and make profiles of individual tigers that we were filming. That was my first serious photography assignment. I went through a steep learning curve in the first few years mainly because I was “playing” way over my league and had a lot of catching up to do.

Can you elaborate on the range of what you’re showing?
I personally refer to the exhibition as “Tigers in my backyard.” We are showcasing a total of 41 pictures, including one huge collage of ten pictures. Most of the images are from Ranthambhore and a few from East Africa, which is a place I spend a lot of time in. We have a wide variety of nature pictures from tigers, birds, elephants to landscapes and a lot of infrared images.

Elephant in a dust storm at sunset in Samburu national park in Kenya.
(Aditya “Dicky” Singh)

Laura Williams’ curatorial approach is theatrical. How did this idea develop?
Laura wanted the viewers to experience the heart-stopping moment a tiger comes out of the bush or the very last moment the sun goes down over the lake, outlining the ‘chhatris’ on the horizon. For this, the Oddbird Theatre fit the bill perfectly.

Since infrared photography highlights what the human eye can’t see, what in your photographs are you aiming to unveil?
Warm objects emit more infrared light than cold objects. As a result, cool surfaces like water and blue skies turn out dark while (warm) living things appear bright. The tricky thing about infrared photography is that the photographer is “painting with light” that they themselves cannot see.

Egret hunting in a small pool at twilight in Keoladeo Ghana national park in Bharatpur.
(Aditya “Dicky” Singh)

Do you think that the forest is often exoticized as a location for images of sunsets, silhouettes and those supposed “decisive” moments that have dominated wildlife photography for decades? Have wildlife photographers have ignored the quieter, less dramatic moments?
I agree. In reality, wilderness is a very rough and aggressive place teeming with all sorts of living beings. Most photographers are always looking for dramatic moments of a few key species of animals and they forget that even the common and mundane in the right lighting conditions can be awesome. Kind of like missing the woods for the trees.

Wildlife photography is subject to several ethical concerns. In Ranthambore, what are the issues on ground?
Many people forget that in nature photography, nature comes before photography. I come from a generation that roamed around in wilderness with a pair of binoculars for many years before we got our first camera. Nowadays, I meet a lot of nature photographers who do not even own a pair of binoculars. I seriously believe that to be a nature photographer you have to learn to be a naturalist first. Protected areas like Ranthambore are pretty strictly controlled so people are wary of doing anything unethical as the chances of getting caught are very high.

Have you been in a position where your own safety was compromised while photographing in the forest?
Never. Wild animals, almost always, give you a lot of warning before they get aggressive. For instance, one of the first signs of agitation in a wildcat is a quick flick of the tongue over their upper lips while looking straight at whatever is agitating them. If you know this, then it’s time to make things right. If you do not know this, then you should keep away from wilderness.

WHAT: Tigers in my backyard, solo show of wildlife photographer Dicky Singh

WHEN: Till February 8

WHERE: Oddbird Theatre, Dhan Mill Compound, 100 Feet Road, Chattarpur

NEAREST METRO: Chattarpur

CONTACT: 9958644810

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